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At 'perfect' school, student sat next to a bomb

But despite tragedy, Elsa Coffey-Berg, 18, says she'll be proud to graduate from CHS

Saturday, April 13, 2002

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Before they shopped for a house, they shopped for a high school.

Elsa Coffey-Berg's parents checked out Jefferson County schools before they moved to Colorado from Idaho in 1998.

"We chose Columbine because of its academics," Elsa said. "We had chosen this school because it was so, like, perfect."

Only her first day of school wasn't so perfect. She sat on the lawn filling out enrollment papers, wondering why no one else was enjoying the grass. The sprinklers turned on.

"All the kids around me started laughing. I was so embarrassed," Elsa recalled. "But I lived through it. I went to classes wet."

Like so many other freshmen, Elsa was in the cafeteria on April 20, 1999.

Later she would learn that her chair was next to a duffel bag containing a propane bomb concocted by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Had the bomb worked, experts believe, the casualties would have been in the hundreds.

Elsa didn't know any of that then. She ran to safety but her sister, Lexis, a sophomore, was missing.

Lexis, it turned out, was trapped inside a science room with Elsa's keyboard teacher, Dave Sanders, who had been shot by the gunmen. Lexis would be in therapy for a year.

As with many Columbine students, Elsa developed a love-hate relationship with the media. She was glued to the TV and devoured the papers for information, but she wanted the press to leave Columbine alone.

"They made Columbine sound like this one-of-a-kind school where jocks singled out kids for not playing sports," she said. "That's completely and utterly ridiculous."

Over the years, she's wondered where the stories are on the good things at Columbine, the choir singing at nursing homes or National Honor Society members performing community service.

The day of the food fight the advanced English classes at Columbine conducted a Shakespeare marathon.

"To have that many kids sitting around reading Shakespeare is really incredible, but the media writes about this stupid pie-throwing incident," Elsa said.

"There's some incredible kids at Columbine you never hear about because the media focuses so much on the few negative things that happen at Columbine.

"I'm really glad I'm at Columbine. There's no place I would rather graduate from. There's great teachers and I have great friends. I love it here."

Elsa Coffey-Berg, 18, plans to study international relations at Colorado State University.


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